Do not be afraid. How often do we hear that phrase in our Gospel? Do not be afraid. Well, it’s over 300 times to be sure, and arguably – if you include phrases like fear not or other variations of do not be afraid – then there are 365… one for each day of the year.
So why then do we hear this so often? What is it that Jesus is trying to tell us? In this short Gospel today, Jesus opens up for us exactly why we should not be afraid.
I could, in this sermon, take the time to give you comfort in the current climate. Right now, we really do need to hear do not be afraid. I could talk of the pandemic and the various huge problems that have come from being in lock down. But what I’m going to do, is break apart the three times in this short passage that Jesus tells us to not be afraid and explain why it’s so vital to being a Christian today in this fearful place, and tomorrow, when all of this is over and we once again feeling secure. This is a lesson that goes beyond our immediate anxieties and worries and fears… and needs to be understood in our daily lives for all time.
So let’s start at the very beginning of our Gospel. Verse 26. In this verse there is a double fearlessness.
The first element is that there is nothing covered that will not be unveiled, and the second is that they should not be afraid to speak with boldness what Jesus has told them.
We are first being told that truth will win. The ultimate truth will always win out. When Christians are persecuted around the world – the people doing the persecution often think they are suppressing the message of the Gospel – but they are not, and they never will. Throughout history leader after king after emperor has tried to stamp out the truth of Jesus Christ and every single time without fail… they fail. Truth will prevail. Truth will triumph. And there is no greater truth than God.
And understanding that, we are led to the reality of what it means to be a teacher of that truth. Teachers of the truth of the Gospel – that’s you and that’s me and that’s every Christian alive – must understand that what they have been told and what they have learnt about Jesus Christ must be proclaimed from the rooftops!
“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light. What you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim on the housetops.”Matthew 10:27
The direction is clear – to be bold and full in our sharing of the truth of Jesus Christ – but – and there is a but here – you first need to have heard that truth, whispered in your ear in the darkness.
First, a teacher must listen. Must hear what God has in store for them. What it is that God wants them to do in this life. This time on earth. We often call that discernment… discernment to hear the call of God in our life and find our vocation. Within that vocation through prayer, meditation on and in scripture, the sacraments, we hear the voice of God whispering in our ear in the darkness telling us how and what to proclaim.
It could be to stand at a lectern and teach scripture. It could be bandaging the arm of a child who has fallen. It could be marriage and a family; it could be to be a father to a child who hasn’t one. There are as many ways of proclaiming the truth from the housetops as there are ways that God loves us.
But without that direction and whisper anything we do is in our own power. Our own ego. And we must be prepared to say no to things that are not of God and of proclaiming that ultimate truth.
That brings us to the second commandment to not be afraid. This time it’s in verse 28 and what we are being told – very simply – is that there is nothing – there is no punishment or other evil that can be done to us for proclaiming the truth – that compares to the punishment of disobedience to God.
There’s another way of saying that, that is perhaps easier to hear.
There is nothing that can be done to our bodies in this life that God cannot undo – but most importantly – what he does to our souls if we are obedient and loving to Him. We should spend our lives making our way towards God – whatever the cost in this earthly life – because the rewards of doing so are eternal.
We cannot place comfort and security ahead of our relationship with God.
Do not be afraid, because we are called by God, loved by God to be with him in eternity.
Finally, we come to the third commandment to not be afraid. It’s in verse 31 and assures us of the particular and specific care that God gives each and every one of us.
It’s a slightly odd way to look at things in our culture where animals are often held with the same level of care, love and esteem as we humans are. But to the disciples the sparrows were of little value. The point that Jesus is making to them – and that they would have understood – is that if God cares for the sparrow this much… then understand how much he cares for you!
When He talks of the sparrow falling to the ground, we perhaps immediately think of the sparrow dying:
“And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing.”Matthew 10:29
But a better translation of the original Aramaic word would be to ‘light’ on the ground. That is to say – every step, every movement, every time that bird moves – is known to God. It is Jesus saying that if God knows this sparrow in this detail, then consider how well he knows you – for he has counted every hair on your head.
And so then what is there to be frightened of?
We are being told – in no uncertain terms – in this very short Gospel – that there is nothing to be frightened of because there is no way that you can ever drift far from the love of God. Because God knows you inside out, because there is no way you can be harmed in any way that will damage your soul– other than if you do it to yourself. God never drifts from you – but you have it in you to drift from Him. But do not be afraid, because when you turn back to Him, you’ll find Him waiting with open arms…. This is no abstract thing; this is exactly what happened to me… this is exactly how I became a Priest.
You are surrounded for all time in God’s care.
In knowing that ultimate truth… what then is there to ever be afraid of?